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Tanzania on high alert over new malaria threat

Anopheles stephensi mosquito has been found in Laisamis and Saku sub-counties of Northern Kenya, posing a serious concern to public health in East Africa

Dar es Salaam. Health institutions stated yesterday that the country was closely monitoring to determine whether the new mosquitoes transmitting fatal malaria have entered Tanzania.

Anopheles stephensi mosquitoes have been found in Laisamis and Saku sub-counties of northern Kenya, posing a serious concern to public health in the neighbouring country and East Africa Community (EAC) member states, including Tanzania.

A malaria parasite-transmitting mosquito originates from South Asia and the Middle East and it spreads two different malaria parasites that highly cause the disease and subsequently, death.

Contrary to the usual pattern for the season, reports from hospitals in Kenya’s malaria-infected regions indicate that there is an increase in the number of malaria patients.

“Malaria is a major public health concern in Kenya. The disease has spread to different parts of the country, with about 70 percent of the population remaining at risk,” reads a statement from the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri).

However, Tanzanian health institutions told The Citizen yesterday that they are closely following the mosquito and that special research aimed at addressing the public health concern has been launched.

The National Institute for Medical Research Tanzania (NIMR) lead researcher, Dr William Kisinza, said the government is aware of the mosquito that has been recently discovered in Kenya.

However, he said they are yet to establish whether the parasite has crossed borders to Tanzania or not, noting that they have already started making follow-up.

“Tanzania is not an island, and the mosquito has a high probability of entering the country. Because of its peculiar traits, the parasite may have entered the country without our knowledge,” said the expert from the Amani Centre in Muheza District, Tanga Region.

He said the mosquito has a high breeding and transmission capability as compared to other mosquitoes. Furthermore, he cautioned that a person who has contracted malaria and gets treated could suddenly fall sick even without being bitten by the mosquito because parasites could remain in the patient’s liver for some time.

“The mosquito is resistant to anti-malaria sprays, therefore increasing anxiety in the world. It’s emergence is a setback to the antimalarial control achievements that have been recorded globally so far,” he said.

“The world community is supposed to comprehensively prepare itself; countries that have identified the mosquito should increase control measures,” he added.

According to him, the ministry of Health in collaboration with Nimr, has strengthened mosquito monitoring as well as the provision of public education.

Describing the mosquito, the head of the Environmental Health Sciences and Ecology department at the Ifakara Health Institute (IHI), Dr Emmanuel Kaindoa, said despite being in the genus Anopheles, the mosquito isn’t familiar on the continent.

He said the mosquito was first seen in 2012 in Djibout and later in Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea before being discovered in Sudan in 2019.

Dr Kaindoa said the mosquito breeds in urban areas more than rural areas, noting that they mainly share the same characteristics as dengue-transmitting mosquitoes.

He said the mosquito can preserve malaria parasites for up to 10 days before starting to transmit the organisms.

“It can carry two different types of malaria-causing parasites, therefore causing difficulties during treatment. They are very dangerous because the disease caused by the mosquito’s transmission has a tendency to hide and emerge suddenly,” he said.

“The mosquito also has the unique characteristic of feeding on human beings and other organisms. Research conducted in Egypt and Djibouti shows it has a high disease transmission ability,” he added.

According to him, the mosquito sucks blood from a human being and uses it to lay eggs for the next three days before seeking another human’s blood on the fourth day.

During the process, another person would be infected and live for 30 days before death, with the expert saying the mosquito’s life cycle continues until its death.

The acting manager of the Tanzania National Malaria Control Programme (TNMCP) at the ministry of Health, Dr Samwel Lazaro, said its bizarre characteristics have compelled the government to start conducting research on the mosquito.

“The new mosquito that has been discovered in Kenya is resistant to drugs used for malaria control; therefore, the government has re-adjusted itself after meeting experts responsible for mosquito control and set its control strategies,” he said.

“We have improved mosquito monitoring systems that will enable us to collect mosquitoes from cities and rural areas in order to find out the possible presence of the new mosquito in the country,” he said.

For his part, Zanzibar’s Health minister, Mr Nassor Ahmed Mazrui said the new type of mosquito hasn’t entered the Spice Islands.

“All the people found with malaria in the Zanzibar Archipelago are treated to full recovery. We have started spraying the pesticides in different breeding sites to prevent any possibility of the mosquito entering and finding refuge in the country,” he said over the phone.

Source : The Citizen

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